Sanya, a coastal city in Hainan Province, on February 17 (XINHUA)
Over the past month, He Dexin, a resident of Ruilian in Chengmai, a county in Hainan Province in south China, has risen before dawn every morning to harvest and sell the vegetables he planted last winter, among them cabbages, peppers and beans.
Chengmai is a fruit and vegetable distribution center. Growing vegetables in winter is an important way for local farmers to increase their income.
He's family was previously registered as impoverished. His finances were strained by lack of advanced agricultural techniques and the cost of providing for a school-age child. Thanks to a training program organized by the local government, his farming skills have improved, and so has his income.
In 2016, the per-capita income of his household was only 2,000 yuan ($282). That figure rose to 12,000 yuan ($1,692) in 2019.
"My income will increase further this year if I expand the planting scale of my crops and find a job operating excavators," He said.
In recent years, Chengmai has attached great importance to improving farmers' skills and has hosted nearly 100 training sessions on construction, excavator operation, business and animal husbandry. Through these workshops, he has not only improved his vegetable-growing skills, but also obtained a license for operating excavators.
According to him, he has already made over 30,000 yuan ($4,229) selling vegetables this year and expects to make more with his remaining beans. He plans to renovate his house with the money to improve his quality of life.
Farmers pick tea in a rural cooperative in Baisha Li Autonomous County, Hainan, on February 27 (XINHUA)
Since last year, the Chengmai County Government has promoted the development of industries for poverty alleviation by scouting talent, especially among university graduates.
Cai Yuxu, one such graduate, has started a rural cooperative to raise cattle in collaboration with seven other graduates who have returned to the county.
Cai has established ranches in Ruixi and Jinjiang, two townships in Chengmai. Last July when applying to build another ranch in Zhongxing, another town in the county, that town's government helped him rent land and accelerated official approval for the project. In less than half a year, a new ranch with over 500 cattle went into operation.
The township government has already committed 4.72 million yuan ($665,332) to a poverty alleviation fund to buy shares for 565 impoverished households in the rural cooperative.
Local farmers saw collective returns of 175,600 yuan ($24,753) in 2017 and 670,000 yuan ($94,443) in 2018. The cooperative also offered skills training to impoverished households to recruit them to work at the farms.
Lai Peng, a partner of Cai, said the cooperative has established a complete industrial chain including planting forage grass, fodder production, cattle breeding and treatment and utilization of manure. The cooperative provides technological guidance to local farmers in growing forage grass and herding to help them rise out of poverty.
Mitigating epidemic's impact
The outbreak of the novel coronavirus has posed new challenges to Hainan's fight against poverty. At a recent meeting, Li Jun, Deputy Secretary of the Hainan Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of China, said the results of poverty alleviation should be consolidated and epidemic control and poverty alleviation should go hand in hand.
Many Chengmai natives have been working as migrant workers in other places, and the novel coronavirus outbreak has prevented them from returning to work. In Mailing Village, 24 impoverished people have been unable to return to work due to the epidemic. To ensure these people continue to have an income during the epidemic, village officials have arranged for some to work at a local vegetable farm, and eight were hired to work at the village's epidemic prevention checkpoint.
More than 1,000 people in Chengmai's 11 townships have been assigned to posts for epidemic control with a wage of 200 yuan ($28) per day.
At the same time, the poverty alleviation office of Chengmai has registered the impoverished individuals unable to resume work because of the epidemic, publishing recruitment advertisements for companies and key projects online to help them find jobs.
Cai Yongquan, a 50-year-old villager in Wanning, another county in Hainan, has three children. He sank below the poverty line several years ago as a consequence of his children's education expenses. However, with the help of the local government, his children have access to an educational poverty alleviation fund. He exchanged his land for shares in a local rural cooperative and receives a dividend every year. He also found a job nearby to supplement his income. In time, Cai Yongquan's household managed to rise out of poverty, but the epidemic has brought new pressure on his finances.
On hearing about his difficulties, poverty alleviation official Yang Fang reported his case to the government. The local government created 1,300 temporary jobs in epidemic prevention and control and gave priority to hiring people in financial difficulty.
Wanning has improved its tropical agriculture, an important source of income for local farmers. However, since the start of the epidemic, difficulty in selling the produce dealt a heavy blow to those who have only just risen out of poverty. The local government has mobilized departments and public servants to offer one-on-one assistance to 542 affected farmers by purchasing their products and helping them sell produce online.
Zhou Defeng, Deputy Director of the Wanning Poverty Alleviation Office, said they will continue to optimize their work method and more accurately calculate farmers' losses due to the difficulty in selling produce or failure to go to work.
In 2019, Hainan accomplished its yearly target of lifting 45,000 people out of poverty, according to the annual work report of the provincial government released in January. Last year, the province's incidence of poverty dropped from 0.79 percent to 0.01 percent. On February 29, it announced that all its poor counties had shed poverty.
In April 2018, at a celebration of the 30th anniversary of the founding of Hainan Province, President Xi Jinping announced the decision to develop the island into a pilot free trade zone (FTZ) and eventually, a free trade port with Chinese characteristics.
Six months later, the Central Government released an overall plan on the development of the Hainan FTZ. China's largest FTZ, it focuses on sectors such as medical care, education, sport, telecommunication and finance.
The eradication of absolute poverty will lay the groundwork for Hainan to become China's first free trade port, which represents the highest level of opening up.
Motivating impoverished residents to rise out of poverty is a crucial and challenging part of poverty alleviation. In 2019, Hainan started TV training programs to help local farmers acquire more skills and shake off poverty.
Wang Dawen, a farmer in Longhua District in Haikou, Hainan's capital, learned how to grow bitter gourd from television classes and rose out of poverty in 2019 by growing the vegetable.
"We shouldn't rely on the government for everything. Only by working hard can we become rich," Wang said.
The province has also launched a campaign to encourage local farmers to help themselves in the battle against poverty.
Copyedited by Laurence Coulton
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